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Death By Heat: Babies Left In Hot Cars

by Tania Cowling | July 14th, 2014 | Care, Infants/Toddlers

file0001704977235Every year about this time we hear the horrifying news about young children left in hot cars that ended in death. Just recently we have heard about several incidents that hit the national news, one even premeditated. Why? As parents we should know that these deaths are preventable. Is it just that adults don’t understand how hot a vehicle can get, even in moderate temperatures outdoors? According to Dr. Christopher Haines, director of pediatric emergency medicine at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia,“On a day that is just 72 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature inside a car can increase by 30 to 40 degrees in an hour, and 70 percent of this increase occurs in the first 30 minutes.” And depending where you live the heat index may be even higher.

It’s never okay to leave a child in a parked car unattended. I know it’s cumbersome to have to take a baby or toddler from their car seat for a short errand, but the stakes are too high for disaster, and in some states, it’s truly against the law.

Medically, do you know what happens? Heatstroke occurs when the body temperature exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit. And children’s temperature regulators in the body warm three to five times faster than an adult’s. Symptoms of heatstroke include dizziness, disorientation, seizures, hot dry skin that doesn’t sweat  for cooling purposes, loss of consciousness, hallucinations, rapid heart beat, and many more health issues.

Some of the top automobile manufacturers have been working on devices to prevent these hyperthermia disasters, but few are being sold. Just like we have monitors to warn us about leaving our headlights on,  keys in the ignition, or an unbuckled seat belt, they are looking toward sensors to alert drivers that children are left in the back seat. So far there are some sensors, but other options need to developed. There is “The Child Minder System” where the child’s car seat harness clip is replaced with a “smart chip” that activates a key ring alarm when the adult walks away (10 feet) from the vehicle with a buckled child inside. Then, a “Personal Car Communicator” in a Volvo sedan can detect a heartbeat in the car and sends a wireless warning to the key fob. This was originally developed as a safety mechanism to safeguard women from a back seat attacker, not really meant to remind drivers of a child left behind. Car manufacturers are experimenting with safety devices, even NASA is getting involved, but we have a long way to go!

After reading and listening to the news lately, I picked up some helpful tips for parents with young children.

  • Place your purse or briefcase next to your child in the back seat to remind you that your child is with you. Even your cell phone!
  • Put the child’s diaper bag next to you in the front seat as a reminder.
  • Always keep your car locked so children can’t go inside to play.
  • And if you see a child left inside a hot car, it is your citizen’s duty to call 911.
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